In the coast range mountains on the western edge of the Salinas Valley is a ranch where Tom, a lad of about ten, longs for a pony. He lives with his mom, who was born there, her dad, a talkative pioneer who misses the old West, Tom's dad Fred Tiflin, who comes from the city and after years on the ranch doesn't feel at home there, and Billy, their trusted hand, a real cowboy. While Fred has to sort out whether he wants to stay a rancher and come to terms with his son being closer to Billy than to himself, Tom gets a pony and learns directly about responsibility and loss. What lessons can each learn, and are tragedy and hard choices all that life offers? Are laughter and joy anywhere? Written by
Young dreamer Peter Miles (as Tom Tiflin) receives "The Red Pony" as a gift from father Shepperd Strudwick (as Fred Tiflin). But, the boy receives help in training the animal not from his distant dad, but from ranch-land Robert Mitchum (as Billy Buck). When tragedy strikes, the lad learns some of life's lessons. The cast is certainly capable, especially with mother Myrna Loy (as Alice Tiflin) in the mix. But, the triad of adults does not approach the seething subtext present in "Shane" (1953). And, John Steinbeck's screenplay does not evoke the passion of similar films, like "The Yearling" (1947).
For these reasons, "The Red Pony" isn't as well-remembered. Still, it's an excellent production, with some fairly interesting character dynamics. Director Lewis Milestone and photographer Tony Gaudio contribute beautifully. This was the last film for Mr. Gaudio, who must have, although not finally nominated, received some "Academy Award" consideration for "Best Color Cinematography". Aaron Copland's musical score is also award-worthy. Louis Calhern (as grandfather) and Margaret Hamilton (as teacher) add support. Watch for Beau (son of Lloyd) Bridges and Nino Tempo (brother of April Stevens).
******* The Red Pony (3/28/49) Lewis Milestone ~ Peter Miles, Robert Mitchum, Myrna Loy
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